A dozen classes across Penn’s campus are piloting a new system, called the Course Absence Report, to facilitate communication between instructors and students regarding long-term absences.
Whereas students were expected to communicate with professors over email before, they can now consolidate their communications on a website that is part of Penn InTouch. Students can fill out the duration of the expected absence, as well as the reason for absence and send it to all the professors of classes they will be missing.
Rob Nelson, executive director for education and academic planning in the Provost’s Office, said this will be a measure for accountability for both professors and students.
“The main reason that we are doing this is that we want to encourage more responsible behavior by students and make things easier and clearer for instructors,” he said.
Prior to the inception of the system, Student Health Services could provide a document verifying the doctor visit and many instructors treated the note as an excuse note. However, Nelson added that professors could not ask for more clarification about the visit due to privacy regulations.
“[There are] a lot of privacy issues around health information and we didn’t want students’ privacy to be compromised so we discontinued that practice of verification,” he said.
Nelson worked with the advising offices of the undergraduate schools and a technical team to develop the system. Currently, it is in its pilot phase and after an upcoming evaluation period, Nelson hopes to launch the system in all undergraduate courses in the spring.
Computer science professor Benedict Brown decided to pilot the system in his CIS110 course in hopes that this would simplify the process for both students and himself.
“It’s never been really clear how students should deal with [absences] so they end up dealing with it individually,” he said, adding that it will be easier to keep track of the absence record with the new system and make sure students are not losing credit for assignments.
Wharton and Engineering sophomore Sai Parepally, who heard about CAR in Browns’ CIS110 class this week, interpreted the CAR system as something to use “if you’re concerned about being sick and you want to be able to get lecture notes or lecture problems shown in class that [the professor] wouldn’t normally give out otherwise.”
“I don’t really see negatives for the students,” Brown said. “I see some possible [hesitation] from the students in that there is sometimes a nervousness about submitting information about absences … but it’s actually for the benefit of the students.”
Parepally agreed. “I think as long as it’s a legitimate reason and if you give [professors] reasonable notice I don’t think you’d be penalized” for submitting absences to CAR.
Kathryn McMahon, director of the French Language Program, said the system may serve to be a good fit for the small language seminars that have strict attendance policies. Since instructors are more easily able to notice long-term absences in classes of fewer than 20 students, this system will alleviate concern on part of the professors, she said.
“We view it much more as a mechanism for students to be able to easily communicate with their professor that they’re going to be away in advance,” she said. “We appreciate their communicating that to us.”
Nelson added that this will also make it easier to provide academic support for students who are “in trouble.”
Brown agreed and said, “If there was an extended absence, I can get in touch with their academic adviser to make sure that there is some follow through so that they are able to catch up and not fall behind.”